Friday, May 23, 2014

Trinity Alps Day 1 and 2

With an average elevation of 4000-9000 feet, mountains and alpine lakes, and less than 5 hours away in Northern CA the Trinity Alps seemed perfect for an early summer trip. With our nonexistent winter in mind I decided late spring was just as good as summer and last weekend I headed out. No local stores had maps and online info was pretty scarce so with some very vague plans for a 3-4 day trip I figured I could make it work. Thursday afternoon I hit the road with a friend and the dog hoping for the best.

When trying to decide where to go before this trip I was reminded that the PCT goes through the Trinity Alps, and I'll admit I don't have the fondest memories of this area or any memories of the Alps specifically. Vague recollections of hot and bugs and not so much water are all that remain. I guess there were mountains but its all a blur. I chose the other side of the wilderness, focusing on the SE, with hopes of a loop in the 4 lakes area and the Stoney ridge trail.

I knew I wanted to get some current conditions or at least a map (thank you online trail conditions report). I found out that permits are required in the Shasta Trinity Forest and the Trinity Alps Wilderness but the Ranger Station closes at 4:30 in spring, so good thing permits are self serve. Leaving Reno at 1 pm meant that was impossible to make so I was crossing my fingers on making it to the local outdoor shop in Weaverville by 6 pm in time to buy a map.

The drive wound us up past Susanville into Lassen and past the Hat Creek Rim and through Old Station, big time PCT memories for sure. Then towards Redding and finally Weaverville. Road construction had me cursing as we spent 30 minutes almost at a standstill and eventually rolled into Weaverville at 6:01. Luckily enough the store stayed open and armed with a map and after a quick stop at the ranger station, our self serve permits were filled out and we headed towards the Stoney Ridge Trail. Leaving Highway 3 we spent 6 miles on a winding dirt forest service road until at 7 pm we finally made it. 3 other cars sat in the parking lot and as we ate dinner we debated if we would see them on this hike. Then out popped a hiker from the trail, he was friendly but rather grumpy regarding trail use, he kept asking if we had heard about this trail on some blog because it was never this crowded. I laughed when he described 3 cars as the fourth of July weekend crowd, I'll admit I was hoping for solitude but 3 people is pretty small compared with the nonsense of places like Yosemite and Desolation Wilderness. Although I now feel slightly guilty for writing about this place...

We enjoyed sunset and rolled out our sleeping bags hoping for an early morning. With predicted highs in the mid-nineties and a day starting with 4.5 miles of climbing I wanted a cool morning start.
Morning came eventually after a long balmy night and I was itching to get started. 4.5 miles of switch-backing up through forest brought us around 3000 feet in elevation gain and to the top of Stoney Wall Pass. Looking over the pass was eye opening, it had been a pretty and well graded climb up but peeking over real mountains and snow spread out in front of me. Now this was more of what I had been hoping for. The guy in the parking lot had warned us about the climb, saying it weeded out the undetermined. Honestly I liked the climb, it was the snowy pass I was staring at that made me truly nervous.

first glimpse of the Trinities

Heading down

Looking down at Van Metre Meadow (maybe?)
After the first snowy part of the trail we found ourselves at a rushing creek with no signs of trail. We headed down a rock field that had me cursing and shaking in turns. Just because it looked like the more direct route I do not recommend it. My dog was the biggest trooper of all, she's amazing on snow but not the biggest fan of boulders at 90 degree angles. Thankfully we saw the trail winding below us and very slowly made our way down.

glorious dirt trail, taking us up to Little Stonewall Pass

looking back, the pass is the first notch on the left

looking down from Little Stonewall Pass

the second pass was a fun boot ski down
The second climb up and down little Stonewall pass was uneventful and soon enough we were taking a break in the beautiful Siligo Meadows.

Another short climb brought us to Deer Creek Pass and our first sights of Deer Lake and the Four Lake Loop trail.

We had originally thought to check out Summit Lake an Deer Lake before picking a campsite but a snowy circumnavigation around a cirque sounded miserable so we slid on down to Deer Lake and made camp for the night.

eyeing the trail up to Summit Lake, the photo does no justice to how steep the slope looked

looking out Deer Creek Canyon
After the fun of the rock scramble and the snow still lingering on all the north faces we came up with a tentative plan of turning this whole thing into a super mellow trip. Leaving our stuff at the campsite instead of hiking on that night or the next and making the 4 lake loop a fun day hike with more side trips if we felt like it. We spent hours lazing in the sun (shade is almost nonexistent at this lake) before the heat finally abated and it was cold enough to sleep. Nice and easy 10 mile day 1.

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